A factitious disorder is a mental illness in which a person makes up an illness or injury. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) identifies four types of factitious disorders:

  • Factitious disorder with mostly psychological symptoms—For example, the person may pretend to have schizophrenia.
  • Factitious disorder with mostly physical symptoms—For example, the person acts as if they have chest pain or abdominal pain. The term "Munchausen syndrome" is sometimes used to refer to this type.
  • Factitious disorder with both psychological and physical symptoms.
  • Factitious disorder not otherwise specified—Factitious disorder by proxy (or Munchausen syndrome by proxy) fall into this category. This involves a parent using his or her child to get needless medical attention for the child.

A factitious disorder may be confused with another type of mental disorder called somatoform disorder. If a person has somatoform disorder, then he or she is not pretending to be sick. The person really believes that there is something physically wrong. However, the symptoms are actually due to psychological issues. Hypochondria is an example of a somatoform disorder. Someone who has hypochondria fears that a real or imagined minor physical symptom is a sign of serious illness.

A factitious disorder is also different from malingering. Malingering occurs when a person is pretending to be sick for some kind of clear benefit, such as money, food, or housing.

Receiving Medical Treatment
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People with factitious disorder seek unnecessary medical treatment.
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The exact cause of factitious disorder not known. However, it may be a mixture of biological and psychological factors. Some possible causes may include:

  • Having frequent illnesses early in life
  • Being abused or rejected by a parent
  • Identifying with someone who had an illness